Today's Reading: Marketing Myopia

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Marketing Myopia WP, from the recently deceased economist Theodore Levitt WP is a fascinating article from 1960. Despite its now quaint and outdated examples, despite being wrong in several of its predictions, this is one of the classic articles of marketing and deservedly so. Perhaps the biggest surpise for me was to reread a sense of marvel and respect at business, a lucid and bracing criticism of capitalism, that I hadn’t seen since I read some Peter Drucker WP last year. The “intellectual” community, specially in Mexico, has so often made deriding business and its babbits its raison d’etre, that I find such cogent analysis incredibly refreshing.

Here two fragments:

The difference between marketing and selling is more than semantic. Selling focuses on the needs of the seller, marketing on the needs of the buyer. Selling is preoccupied with the seller’s need to convert his product into cash; marketing with the idea of satisfying the needs of the customer by means of the product and the whole cluster of things associated with creating, delivering, and finally consuming it.

In a sense Ford was both the most brilliant and the most senseless marketer in American history. He was senseless because he refused to give the customer anything but a black car. He was brilliant because he fashioned a production system designed to fit market needs. We habitually celebrate him for the wrong reason, his production genius. His real genius was marketing. We think he was able to cut his selling price and therefore sell millions of $500 cars because his invention of the assembly line had reduced the costs. Actually he invented the assembly line because he had concluded that at $500 he could sell millions of cars.* Mass production was the result, not the cause, of his low prices.*

At the end of the article, there’s an equally engaging retrospective commentary fifteen years after. Levitt could write.

Of course, I’d do it again and in the same way, given my purposes, even with what more I now know — the good and the bad, the power of facts, and the limits of rhetoric. If your mission is the moon, you don’t use a car. Don Marquis’s cockroach, Archy, provides some final consolation: “An idea is not responsible for who believes in it.”

As a sidenote, this was an article originally published in the Harvard Business Review, which I’ve always dismissed on the base of its exorbitating price. I’ve been reading through online article abstracts from the current edition and I’m most impressed. I’ll be sure to buy it next time.

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